Low- and high-threshold primary afferent inputs to spinal lamina III antenna-type neurons

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The dorsal horn of the spinal cord (laminae I-VI) processes diverse modalities of nociceptive and nonnociceptive sensory information. Antenna-type neurons with cell bodies located in lamina III and large dendritic trees extending from the superficial lamina I to deep lamina IV are best shaped for the integration of a wide variety of inputs arising from primary afferent fibers and intrinsic spinal circuitries. Although the somatodendritic morphology, the hallmark of antenna neurons, has been well studied, little is still known about the axon structure and basic physiological properties of these cells. Here, we did whole-cell recordings in a rat (P9-P12) spinal cord preparation with attached dorsal roots to examine the axon course, intrinsic firing properties, and primary afferent inputs of antenna cells. Nine antenna cells were identified from a large sample of biocytin-filled lamina III neurons (n = 46). Axon of antenna cells showed intensive branching in laminae III-IV and, in half of the cases, issued dorsally directed collaterals reaching lamina I. Antenna cells exhibited tonic and rhythmic firing patterns; single spikes were followed by hyperpolarization or depolarization. The neurons received monosynaptic inputs from the low-threshold Aβ afferents, Aδ afferents, as well as from the high-threshold Aδ, and C afferents. When selectively activated, C-fiber-driven monosynaptic and polysynaptic excitatory postsynaptic potentials were sufficiently strong to evoke firing in the neurons. Thus, lamina III antenna neurons integrate low-threshold and nociceptive high-threshold primary afferent inputs and can function as wide dynamic range neurons able to directly connect deep dorsal horn with the major nociceptive projection area lamina I.

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